January 27th, 2022

// Alberta Innovates invests in research to tackle growing threat of chronic wasting disease

Alberta Innovates invests in research to tackle growing threat of chronic wasting disease

EDMONTON, Alberta, Jan. 26, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Alberta Innovates is investing $1.25 million in research to understand and address the increasing spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD). This prion disease, seen in Canada, the United States and elsewhere, threatens the agriculture industry, the environment and potentially human health.

CWD is a progressive, fatal nervous system disease caused by prion proteins in the brain that infect animals such as deer, elk and moose in the wild, and can spread to farmed elk and deer. Prions shed by infected animals through their feces, urine and saliva remain infectious in soil for many years, posing a risk of environmental transmission to other cervids. There is also concern CWD might be transmissible to other wild animal species and livestock, and to humans who consume infected meat.

Five projects – three at the University of Alberta and two at the University of Calgary – were chosen from seven proposals submitted to the Alberta Innovates Chronic Wasting Disease Research Program.

Two projects focus on vaccine development to prevent CWD infections, including a vaccine to prevent the potential spread to caribou, an important food source for Indigenous and northern communities. Three other projects will study various aspects of the transmissibility and progression of CWD – e.g., if it can spread from cervids to other species, the rate of spread, and whether CWD prions could bind with vegetation and contaminate animal forage and Alberta crops.


“The aggressive rate of transmission of CWD poses the risk that this disease could soon grow to levels where deer populations will significantly decline and CWD is introduced into new geographical regions, including the ranges of Alberta’s at-risk woodland caribou herds. Research to better understand the disease and advance the development of an effective vaccine will support other science-based strategies used by Environment and Parks to limit the prevalence and spread of CWD in Alberta’s wildlife populations.” – Hon. Jason Nixon, Minister, Alberta Environment and Parks

“Alberta Innovates is committed to supporting chronic wasting disease research to mitigate the spread and understand the transmissibility of the disease. Research in vaccine development and spread of the disease is underway to protect wild and domestic animals as a food source, the environment and the agriculture industry.” – Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates

“Our commitment to CWD research is good news for producers. This prion disease has debilitated the farmed cervid and hunting sectors for many years and now represents a major threat to Alberta agriculture. The threat of crop contamination with CWD prions shed by cervids is real. The work of researchers is essential to understanding the disease and developing countermeasures. And I am confident in Alberta’s capacity to develop effective disease solutions based on vaccines and genomics.” – Dr. David Chalack, DVM, RDAR Chair


Alberta Innovates is supporting five projects with a total investment of $1,247,500. Alberta Innovates funding is leveraged by contributions of $792,500 from several other funding sources, including and $521,000 from Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), and $62,500 from Alberta Environment and Parks for total research support of over $2 million. Details of each project are available in this Project Library under Smart Agriculture and Food.

Principal Investigator Alberta Innovates SupportProject Title
Judd Aiken
University of Alberta
$248,000CWD contamination of vegetation
Sabine Gilch
University of Calgary
249,500Chronic wasting disease transmission to sympatric species
Debbie McKenzie University of Alberta250,000Mechanisms of genetic resistance to CWD infection in white-tailed deer and caribou
Hermann Schätzl
University of Calgary
250,000Combining vaccination with genetic resistance to protect caribou against chronic wasting disease
Holger Wille
University of Alberta
250,000Structure-based chronic wasting disease vaccines: Analyzing their mode of action


  • Chronic wasting disease is spreading throughout four Canadian provinces, many U.S. states, parts of Europe and South Korea.
  • This infectious disease is caused by prions (abnormally folded proteins in the brain). It affects the central nervous system of wild and farmed animals called cervids, e.g., deer, elk, moose, reindeer. CWD has not yet reached caribou habitat in Canada but is expected to.
  • There is no direct evidence that CWD has ever been transmitted to humans. Some research shows that CWD can be transmitted to primates closely related to humans by feeding them meat or brain tissue from deer and elk infected with CWD. As a result, health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advise caution when eating meat from animals harvested from areas where CWD has been found (Alberta Health, Chronic Wasting Disease Overview).
  • Positivity rate in hunted mule deer tested in Alberta is nearly 15 per cent and is increasing.
  • CWD prions shed from infected animals are known to remain in the environment for several years.
  • In addition to threatening health, CWD also threatens food sources (livestock and crop industries, hunting and trapping), and tourism (outfitters).

Alberta Innovates is the province’s largest and Canada’s first provincial research and innovation agency. For a century we have worked closely with researchers, companies, and entrepreneurs – trailblazers who built industries and strengthened communities. Today we are pivoting to the next frontier of opportunity in Alberta and worldwide by driving emerging technologies across sectors. We are a provincial corporation delivering seed funding, business advice, applied research and technical services, and avenues for partnership and collaboration.
Learn how albertainnovates.ca


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